The second book in Linda Nagata's trilogy of near-future military SF thrillers has all the fast-paced action and reasonable extrapolation of its predecessor, though a looser narrative structure makes it a slightly less compelling read. In the aftermath of their possibly-heroic, possibly treasonous actions, Lieutenant James Shelley and his squad are on trial for their lives. They know their actions were justifiable, but will the very powers they were fighting against prevent the truth from coming out? And even once the trial is over, there are loose ends and new threats to face, including the mysterious AI known only as the Red, which has kept Shelley alive for its own mysterious purposes. Those purposes will take Shelley and his allies around the world and to even stranger places... if they live long enough.
Perhaps it's ironic to say this about a series built around installments of a fictional reality show about military life, but the biggest problem with The Trials is that it's overly episodic. The opening section with Shelley's trial would have made a natural epilogue to the first novel; here, even expanded with a few technically superfluous action sequences, it drags. The rest of the book is taken up by missions that fit with the general theme of the series but don't quite cohere into a single narrative. The climax is a very dramatic mission that takes Shelley into new territory, but it emerges so late in the novel that it doesn't feel like that much of a payoff.
That quirk aside, this is a satisfying example of the thoughtful thriller. I am not a reader of most military SF, simply because it runs on a worldview and an aesthetic completely opposite to my own, but Nagata captures what's appealing in the subgenre with none of what isn't. The technology is a logical extension of what already exists, intriguing without becoming so futuristic as to create a disconnect with the earthly and earthy realities of military service. The plot reflects contemporary concerns about the power of the massively wealthy, the corruption of democracy, and the dangers of an infrastructure heavily dependent on computers and the cloud, but the thematic relevance is never overplayed or dogmatic. The first-person, present-tense narration keeps the action sequences focused and involving, even for a reader like me who doesn't particularly enjoy that sort of thing. In short, this is the kind of highly readable yet carefully-considered work that ought to be winning Hugos and Nebulas. And in fact the first book in the series did get a Nebula nomination when it was self-published a couple years, becoming the first self-published book to be so honored. Now that the series moved to traditional publication, I can only hope it will get even more attention in that line. The third in the trilogy releases in a couple months, and I'm very much looking forward to it.